Written by Gregg Brekke
It started as a joke between friends.
It morphed into reality, and now there is wonder as well: Just how big will the “UCC Mission:1 Spaghetti and Meatballs Throwdown” get in rural Wyandot County, Ohio?
“One day he was bragging about how he was going to make Bobby Flay meatballs, and how great it was going to be,” said the Rev. Robin LaBolt, pastor of Sycamore United Church of Christ. Her reference was to claims by her buddy – Pastor Dave Jones of Trinity UCC in nearby McCutchenville – that he could rival the culinary skills of the popular Food Network television host.
LaBolt – noting her Italian-American roots and inherent ability to whip up a dazzling dish of meatballs – couldn’t keep quiet.
“You can’t beat my Nana’s (grandma’s) meatballs, no way,” said a laughing LaBolt, recalling the exchange with Jones. “He said something back, and I said, ‘Well, I see a Throwdown in our future.’”
The rest is pasta history. Or it will be on Nov. 5. That’s when members of the two churches will gather in the fellowship hall of Trinity UCC to raise money and food for the UCC “Mission:1” campaign.
From Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11), the UCC goal will be to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks, as well as $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related ministries and $111,111 in online donations for East Africa famine relief. The UCC will also ask its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
“It will be fun for our churches, our members can have a good meal, and we can benefit a great cause,” said Jones. Hopeful of filling the 400-seat Trinity fellowship hall, LaBolt and Jones are publicizing the event in their church newsletters and are seeking local newspaper coverage.
Cost of the meal will be a canned good and a free will donation, said LaBolt. “Our goal is to collect at least 1,111 items of food and raise $1,111.”
For Jones, the Throwdown marks his “coming out” as a cook.
“I’ve always had the passion to cook, but not much of an opportunity,” said the fan of Flay. “‘Throwdown’ is one of my favorite shows, and when I saw him making the spaghetti and meatballs about six months ago, I started making them. Up until then, I couldn’t make a meatball that was worth eating. I was shocked that they were so good.”
The Mission:1 event is the latest opportunity for the two churches, separated by only 4 miles, to fortify a long-established bond. Combined, Sycamore and McCutchenville are home to fewer than 2,000 residents and four churches. Trinity UCC is the only church in McCutchenville.
“Our two communities are very inter-connected,” said LaBolt. “We have families who are parts of both of our churches, so it’s gotten somewhat competitive, which is really funny. And we have people in my church with family members who go to the other two churches,” she added, referring to Catholic and Methodist churches in Sycamore.
Sewing members of each church are gearing up for the ‘Throwdown’ by making aprons and chef hats for LaBolt and Jones. Among the panel of judges will be Dan Busch, Northwest Ohio Association Minister.
“There’s a lot of excitement starting to brew,” said Jones. “A lot of people are starting to talk about it.”
For more information about Mission:1, pleases visit < ucc.org/mission1>.